Where’s the finish line?
The state of Tennessee is home to some of the most notorious running races in the world. The Barkley Marathons which you might have heard me talk about before; the Last Vol State, a 500km race across the state; and Big’s Backyard Ultra. In this last event, runners must complete a 6.7km lap every hour until only one competitor is left in the race. No-one knows when the finish line will be, many editions have gone well over 320km.
When we read in the New Testament the analogy of the Christian life to the life of an athlete we often think of a long distance race rather than a short one. To use a cliche, life’s a marathon not a sprint.
Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Philippians 2:16b And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
Like those who take part in Big’s Backyard Ultra, we don’t know when the finish line will be. Either immediately in the ability to return to church worship (although we have a rough idea of when that might be) and exactly what that’s going to be like. Or in the bigger picture when the end of our Christian journey will be at the end of our lives and we meet the Lord Jesus.
But we can draw lessons from these verses in how we go about our lives.
First, as Hebrews states – we need to persevere. We must keep on keeping on, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, and as we discovered in Jude 1-4 accepting that he is our Lord and master and adopting an attitude of service to him.
Which means that as we persevere we shouldn’t be boasting about. It is in the Holy Spirit that we are sustained, not in our own strength. It is only when we have truly finished the race and know the result that we can say we did not run for no reason.
But on that day, upon finishing the race, we will receive a prize. A prize that will never grow dull or diminish. And as we cross the finish line, those of us who have persevered in the Christian life to the end of the race and sustained in God’s power until that day will hear the Lord say to us “Well done, good and faithful servant […] Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).